Taxi drivers should be told to face reality

Gone are the days when taxi drivers enjoyed a monopoly in a captive market.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry upon reading the report “Langkawi taxi drivers want ride-hailing services banned”.

Aside from ride-sharing services, taxi drivers in the duty-free island also face competition from shuttle operators at the main jetty, the airport, Pantai Chenang, and the Gunung Mat Cincang cable car station.

The report said taxi drivers are now struggling to earn between RM30 and RM40 daily, with one of them lamenting that they are facing a lot of emotional stress seeing e-hailing drivers picking up customers before their very eyes.

If so, why don’t they switch to e-hailing using private cars?

If others on the mainland had to pay high prices for private cars and could compete successfully with taxis granted excise duty exemption, it should be much easier to compete on a level playing field when all motor vehicles enjoy excise duty exemption in Langkawi.

Last July, amendments to the Land Public Transport (LPT) Act 2010 and the Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board (CVLB) Act 1987 were passed in the Dewan Rakyat to regulate the e-hailing service.

Recently, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the new rules for e-hailing services were approved by the Cabinet on April 6 and gazetted the same day.

E-hailing drivers must now possess a public service vehicle (PSV) licence, and their vehicles must pass roadworthiness inspection at Puspakom. Screening must be conducted on drivers’ background and outstanding summonses, and drivers must undergo training and health checks to renew their PSV licence.

This will be a tall order for private car drivers and e-hailing companies to comply with. Taxi drivers and companies should push for full compliance, as this will weed out a large number of e-hailing drivers, estimated to be around 400,000 in the country.

If a grace period of six months is given, it could reduce the number to 200,000, or even 100,000 if only three months are given. This would certainly benefit taxi drivers and, indirectly, taxi companies, but they are strangely quiet despite being quick to stage protests in the past.

Hoping that the government will ban e-hailing platforms on the island would be an exercise in futility as it is already fait accompli.

Taxi drivers should either switch to e-hailing or call on the authorities to carry out the laws that have already been passed and gazetted. There are many taxi drivers and operators associations who are very vocal among themselves, but none has taken up the mantle to provide true leadership.

It should be remembered that politicians from both sides of the political divide, as well as taxi drivers, have a poor understanding of the industry. Continuing with populist measures would be detrimental to the public and cause cabbies to be stuck in a low-income trap.

Few people are aware that e-hailing using private cars goes beyond Grab and MyCar, a local app launched on April 4. Visitors also use local apps from their home countries in Malaysia to book private vehicles.

Stopping local apps from operating would only give others a field day. Taxi drivers used to enjoy a monopoly in a captive market. All they had to do was wait at strategic points to pick up passengers.

But as with many other things, those days are long gone and taxi drivers need to be told to face reality. Who is going to bell the cat, though? Certainly not before the general election, as politicians are promising the earth and the moon just to win votes.

YS Chan is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.